Guest Columns

HUDSON: CHEERS AND JEERS FROM THE SESSION

Tell me, what’s with the ‘silent running’ on the part of Colorado Democrats?

By Miller Hudson

During the first few weeks following each legislative session, Colorado’s public policy institutes convene their supporters to either brag about their successes or bemoan their failures. For nearly a decade progressive and liberal lobbying shops have had a lot to be happy about (not so much at CACI and the Independence Institute). Once Democrats figured out how to reliably win legislative elections, following nearly three decades of Republican dominance, it turned out they didn’t have any problems a handful of billionaires couldn’t solve for them. Both the House and the Senate have briefly slipped into Republican hands, but only by the narrowest of margins, while Democrats have generally prevailed in most major statewide races since 2004. By 2010 their repeated success led to publication of “The Blueprint” by political reporter Adam Schrager and former Republican House member Rob Witwer, which recounts the sources of these surprising victories by Democratic candidates (credit substantial assistance provided by a network of well funded political action committees).

Last week the Colorado Center on Law and Policy met early on a snowy Monday morning to revel in the approval of a lengthy legislative agenda of more than 40 bills with only a pair of setbacks. The following day the Bell Policy Center was high-fiving its victories on 15 of 20 legislative initiatives. Both organizations are pursuing multi-year agendas designed to strengthen progressive economic policies. Perhaps the best example from the past session is the expansion of access to and provision of financial support for childcare services. The escalating cost of childcare in recent years has created the greatest barrier to employment for minimum wage parents. With Colorado’s unemployment rate dropping to a five year low of 6 percent in April, it can be argued that Democrats have been pursuing policies that are more than simple handouts — that they also represent smart economic policy. Yet we don’t hear much bragging about these achievements, either from Democrats at the Capitol or on the campaign trail. Yes, non-profit advocacy groups are aware of and pleased with this help for blue-collar families, but any celebrations are generally kept “in-house.”

Despite a 150-year history of progressive politics in this country, conservative critics have tarnished liberals with the libel that a “hand up” extended to our neediest citizens constitutes a cancer on the body politic. This is particularly ironic, since it was the Republican Party, both as abolitionist partisans prior to the Civil War and as progressive reformers quick to curb the excesses of the gilded age at the turn of the 20th Century, which historically achieved the most to expand both freedom and economic opportunity for all Americans. Today’s Republicans seem more focused on preventing people from voting than they are on assuring they represent the aspirations of a majority of voters. A political party afraid it cannot appeal to a majority of its countrymen is destined for the scrapheap of history; but so too is a party that fears to take credit for the policies it advances. What’s with the “silent running” on the part of Colorado Democrats?

It’s not enough to simply win elections with a well-oiled campaign machine. Perhaps not this year but eventually, Colorado Republicans, or their successors, will gear up a comparable campaign juggernaut. Progressives have failed to nurture a progressive majority, leaving the messy business of campaigning to a professional cadre of pollsters, consultants and media specialists. Don’t get me wrong, they have proven very good at what they do; but they’ve been substantially assisted by a confused and dispirited opposition willing to double down on lunacy and candidates so far outside the mainstream as to insult the intelligence of too many voters. Nonetheless, there has to be a limited amount of mileage Democrats can squeeze out of not being Republicans. It’s the vision thing!

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant. He served two terms in the Colorado House from Denver beginning in 1979. He later served as executive director of the Colorado Association of Public Employees. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com.